Last week, Chief Justice John Roberts declined an invitation to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about possible reforms to the Supreme Court’s ethics rules, CBS News reported.
In a letter sent to Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) last Tuesday, Chief Justice Roberts said it is “exceedingly rare” for the chief justice of the Supreme Court to provide testimony to the committee “in light of separation of powers concerns” as well as “the importance of preserving judicial independence.”
The previous week, Senator Durbin had asked the chief justice to appear before the committee on May 2 or designate another justice to appear on his behalf so committee Democrats could grill him about possible ethics reforms Democrats are pushing in light of a recent hit-piece targeting Justice Clarence Thomas.
Durbin, assuming the hit pieces were authentic, claimed that there have been “revelations” showing that Supreme Court justices are “falling short of the ethical standards expected” of the federal judiciary. The Senator accused the Supreme Court of failing to address ethics issues for decades and claimed that this has led to a “crisis of public confidence.”
In his response, Roberts cited the Supreme Court Library which shows that there have only been two occasions in which chief justices have testified before Congress on issues not related to nominations or appropriations: Chief Justice Charles Hughes in 1935 and Chief Justice William Howard Taft in 1921.
Chief Justice Roberts also included with his letter a copy of the 3-page Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices members of the Supreme Court subscribe to.
After receiving the chief justice’s response, Senator Durbin explained in a statement that he “extended an invitation” to Chief Justice Roberts “or his designate” so the Court could participate “in this discussion.” He vowed that even without the Court’s involvement, the Judiciary Committee will be moving forward with hearings on Supreme Court ethics reform in May.